THE HEART IS AN INSTRUMENT: Portraits in Journalism by Madeleine Blais

THE HEART IS AN INSTRUMENT: Portraits in Journalism

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Fifteen brief but sensitive vignettes and a longer epilogue by Blais (Journalism/Univ. of Mass. at Amherst), a Pulitzer-winning former writer for the Miami Herald. Blais focuses primarily on ""outsiders""--a schizophrenic woman struggling to gain stability, a teenaged murderer, an 83-year-old WW I vet seeking to have his dishonorable discharge reversed. One of the most successful pieces here, reprinted from The Washington Post, concerns Carol Fennelly, a social activist who continues to head a shelter for the homeless even though her fellow activist and longtime lover Mitch hanged himself. Blais captures in haunting images the woman's strength, her sense of loss, her vulnerability: Fennelly, Blais tells us, speaks of an earlier marriage in which her husband asked, ""Why can't you be more obedient?"" ""Dogs are obedient!"" Fennelly replied, dropping to all fours and barking and tugging at his pants cuff with her teeth. But when Blais depicts a subject who is ""successful,"" as, for example, in a portrait of an anonymous $80-an-hour therapist whose life is a manic attempt to juggle career and motherhood, her plans misfire. Rather than seeing the woman as admirable, as Blais apparently intends, we perceive her as self-absorbed and misdirected; in fact, the author admits in an afterword that this particular article elicited a nearly universal negative response when it appeared. Nor is Blais much more successful in her interview with Tennessee Williams, offering little more than a rehash of the playwright's oft-told tales. Discussing her own work, Blais writes, ""I am most often drawn to people walking the edge, curiously undefeated."" It's in portraying these marginal lives that she's most effective.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1992
Page count: 248pp
Publisher: Univ. of Massachusetts Press